The existing EPS agreement between the RFU and Premiership Rugby is about to run out, but CEO Ian Ritchie and the clubs have been hard at work behind the scenes to create a new agreement that will last for another four years, beyond the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
As part of the agreement, Eddie Jones will be granted even more time with the players.
According to the Evening Standard, the agreement is into its finishing touches, with Ritchie commenting:
“Those discussions have gone well. It is a key priority, we have to get it done by the end of the season, and we will get it done. The key areas around release of players are being dealt with and I think we’ll get the time Eddie wants. There has been a good recognition about the balance of time and performance.”
At the moment, the EPS agreement means the squad of 32 or 33 players announced in advance of the Six Nations and the Autumn Internationals meet up with the England coaches two weeks before the start of the test ‘blocks’ and grants Jones access to the players during fallow weeks within the Six Nations.
It also allows for fitness testing and monitoring at specified times during the season and limits the number of club games a player can be involved in during the season.
Any further access to the players for the England coaches would be a welcome bonus for Jones, who argued before taking on the job that central contracts were needed in England to move the team forward (via the Daily Mail):
“Wales, Ireland and Scotland – unlike England, Italy and France – all have centralised contracting systems, the union controls the players.
“As a consequence, they produced competitive teams and vibrant performances at the recent World Cup.”
In the past the English clubs have been willing to compromise on player release in return for a share of the profits generated from England games, and the one-off fixture arranged between England and Wales in May was arranged outside of World Rugby’s Test window to allow the RFU to generate some of the cash needed to fund the EPS agreement.
This is, of course, in stark contrast to France. As Pundit Arena writer Alan Drumm pointed out, France could be missing up to 15 players for their summer tour of Argentina due to conflicting schedules with the Top 14 – a competition that seems to drag on longer than any other domestic tournament in the world.
Guy Noves must look on in envy at the access Jones is likely to be granted, given the FFR are somewhat powerless to negotiate access to their players with the Top 14 clubs; the combined financial clout of the likes of Toulon, Clermont Auvergne, Stade Francais, Racing 92 and Toulouse far outweighs that of the governing body’s.
With greater access to his players, Jones will be looking to go beyond the Grand Slam he and his team picked up this month and target the southern hemisphere powers, beginning with England’s summer tour of Australia in June.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena
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